Zimbabwe: Serious human rights violations call into question the legitimacy and credibility of the Zimbabwe election results

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the widespread human rights violations  reported by election observers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders which appears to have had an adverse impact on the fairness and legitimacy of the electoral process surrounding the 2324 August national elections. Among the violations reported in the lead up to and during the Zimbabwe elections are arbitrary arrests and detentions of NGO staff members, lawyers and journalists; voter intimidation; suppression of opposition; and restrictions on civic spaceThe ICJ calls for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into these allegations of human rights violations, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.  

The ICJ also calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect and ensure the rights of all persons, including opposition leaders, to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take effective measures to ensure the independence of judges and lawyers and protection for human rights defenders. 

“Zimbabwe’s elections occurred within an environment that fell short of many regional and international standards for credibility. These concerns cast a shadow on the elections and the legitimacy of the election results. The elections were by no means free, fair and credible. ICJ is further concerned that the opposition Citizen’s Coalition for Change party elected not to file an electoral court challenge on the grounds that they cannot be guaranteed a fair hearing before the Zimbabwean courts,” said ICJ Africa Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh. 

Election observers and civil groups have raised credible allegations of voter suppression, arbitrary restrictions on gatherings by opposition parties, biased media coverage in favour of the ruling party, and delayed polling station openings, calling the overall fairness of the entire process into serious doubt. In its preliminary findings on the elections, the Southern African Development Community’s Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), an independent regional watchdog, acknowledged the relatively peaceful voting process, but noted worrisome issues such as early closures and late openings of multiple polling places, election intimidation, and delays in voting. The European Union’s observer mission echoed SEOM’s sentiments, describing the elections as taking place within  a “climate of fear.”  

 Amnesty International, among other civil society organizations, has further reported that the election was marred by voting delays; violent physical assaults on opposition party leaders, NGO staff and human rights defenders; throttling of the internet; voter intimidation by a group called Forever Associates Zimbabwe which is alleged to have links to the ruling party; and arbitrary arrests of civil society staff, lawyers and human rights defenders.  

 Under President Mnangagwa’s leadership, the Zimbabwean government has systematically curtailed the activities of civil society organizations and restricted civic space. Prior to and in the lead up to the 2023 elections, human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, opposition leaders, judges, lawyers and other voices critical of the Mnangagwa administration have been regular targets for violent physical assaults, online harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and arbitrary detention. These measures, aimed at silencing dissent, erode the foundations of a democratic society which include the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, assembly and the right to participate in public affairs.  

“The right to vote and participate in public affairs is the cornerstone of a democracy operating within the rule of law.  Creating an environment in which it is difficult to exercise such rights and any undue interference with elections, takes away from the essence of a democratic process,” said Ramjathan-Keogh

Given the many questions around the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process, the ICJ also expresses concern over South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s attendance of President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration and his congratulatory statement to the President-elect praising “the Republic of Zimbabwe for organizing and holding the harmonized elections.” This statement and other messages of congratulations offered by other heads of state fail to mention the reality of numerous human rights concerns within which the elections took place. The ICJ calls on the international community, particularly other governments within Southern Africa, to condemn acts of voter suppression, attacks on civil society and human rights defenders, and other acts that compromise the ability of voters and opposition candidates to exercise their rights to participate in public affairs.  

For more information, contact:  

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director Africa Programme, e: Kaajal.Keogh@icj.org 

Mulesa Lumina, ICJ Africa Legal and Communications Associate Officer, e: Mulesa.Lumina@icj.org 



On 23 and 24 August 2023, Zimbabwe held elections to determine its President, National Assembly members, and local government representatives. According to official results released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on 26 August, incumbent President Emerson Mnangagwa won a second term in office, securing 52.6% of the vote compared with 44% for main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. The main opposition party – Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC) – rejected the election outcome, alleging fraud in the process and have called for an election re-run. Based on reports of election observers, CCC also stated that the electoral process had been riddled with what they called “massive irregularities that undermined the legitimacy of the elections”. They have not, however, filed a court challenge on the grounds that do not believe they would receive a fair and impartial hearing from the courts.  

On 23 August, the authorities arrested 41 staff members, from the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center, who were engaged in lawful election observation in accordance with the Electoral Act. These arrests prevented efforts to independently verify the ZEC’s announced results. The SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) also expressed grave concern about the threatening statements made about the SEOM and the personal attacks directed at the Head of the Mission by members of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Regional and wider international observers, including the SEOM as well as other missions from the African Union and the European Union also issued reports exposing deep flaws in the process. Most recently, on 4 September, human rights lawyers Tapiwa Muchineripi and Doug Coltart were arrested and charged with obstructing the course of justice after advising the police that their clients – two CCC members – needed urgent medical care following their abduction. The two lawyers have since been released on bail. 

Zimbabwe is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), which guarantee the rights to freedom of association, assembly, expression and to participate in public affairs, including by voting in free and fair elections or standing for elections. Zimbabwe has also ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and, accordingly, is obliged to “establish and strengthen independent and impartial national electoral bodies responsible for the management of elections” and reaffirms its commitment to regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections. 

In addition, in its 2019 Resolution on elections in Africa the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights highlights concerns about electoral violence and shrinking civic space, and “reaffirms the right guaranteed by the African Charter under Article 13 for every citizen to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.” In the same Resolution, the Commission also calls on States to ensure that voters are able to exercise their right to participate in elections “in a peaceful environment, free from intimidation and violence.”  

Finally, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections call upon Zimbabwe and other States, to encourage the full participation of all citizens in democratic and development processes;  to ensure that all citizens enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights, including freedom of association, assembly and expression; and to promote and respect the values of electoral justice which include integrity, impartiality, fairness, professionalism, efficiency and regularity of elections. 

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